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Solar project seeking local money

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A California company that wants to install solar panels at Greenbank Farm needs more investors so it can qualify for a renewable-energy incentive from the state of Washington.

Newport Equity Fund Greenbank Farm LLC and the investment arm of the operations, Evergreen Management, are incorporated in Washington and managed by parent company, Newport Partners, based in Irvine, Calif.

The frames for the solar arrays already have been installed on the half acre the farm is leasing from the Port of Coupeville at the farm. The port will make about $1,500 each year from Newport in rent and production incentives.

But before its solar panels are installed, the company is hoping to qualify for the state incentive of up to $1.08 per kilowatt hour that’s aimed at promoting alternative energy projects. This would be on top of the 8 cents per kilowatt hour paid by regional electrical utility Puget Sound Energy for the energy production.

Newport needs at least 16 Puget Sound Energy customers to sign up as investors at a minimum of $100 each in order to qualify.

So far, 10 investors have stepped forward, said Jong Limb, president of Newport Partners.

But they still need at least six more.

“We wanted to open up this up to as many people as possible,” Limb said. “We wanted to make the point that you don’t need to be rich to do this.”

Evergreen Management is putting together a financing program to help cover the cost of installing the panels. Limb said he has already invested $100,000 in the project.

It is not easy to put together an investor base,” Limb said. “The incentive money comes in over time, but a fair amount of money is needed up front.”

Limb said his company’s financing program is similar to that provided by auto manufacturers that offer financing to people who want to buy a car. The company is passing on the borrowing cost to the investor, but won’t make any money on the interest, Limb said.

Because of confidentiality laws, officials with the Washington Department of Revenue cannot comment on a particular project. But Revenue spokesman Mike Gowrylow said that the project will be evaluated to determine if it meets the criteria for a community solar project – and whether the project is eligible for “substantial financial incentives.”

“The community solar incentive was an expansion on the individual solar incentives,” Gowrylow said. “The idea was for utility customers in the community to come together to create bigger projects.”

The utility gets a tax credit from the state that is then passed on as an incentive to its customers who invested in the solar project, he said.

“The utility can’t get a credit unless the incentive payment is to utility customers,” Gowrylow said.

The maximum amount that any one utility customer can earn in state incentives is $5,000 per year, he said.

Newport Partners is the parent company of Silicon Energy, a manufacturer of solar panels and inverters based in Marysville, Wash.

The impetus behind getting involved in the Greenbank project was to help support the manufacturing facility, Limb said.

The facility benefits from the purchase of panels and inverters for use at the farm. Plus the solar arrays in the farms’ demonstration fields may have “a positive public relations benefit,” Limb said. People who see the solar arrays may want to have their own installed, he said.

“We want to see more products sold and used out there,” Limb said.

Limb has been involved in other solar panel projects in Washington, such as at Poulsbo Middle School and Kingston High School.

According to Limb, the potential for a solar demonstration project at Greenbank Farm was brought to his attention by A&R Solar, a Seattle company that installs solar panels. A&R was originally contracted to install the panels, but the two companies have since parted ways.

The panels belonging to Island Community Solar, LLC, a Whidbey-based venture financed mostly by local investors, began energy production in June 2011. The panels for Bellingham-based Cascade Community Wind began producing electricity in July.  

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